“Freezin’ Gator Zip” energizes Millennium Park

During the weekend of February 13, thousands of Chicagoans soared over Millennium Park on a 200-foot zip line that stretched from a platform near the northern end of the promenade to a landing area steps away from the Bean. Although the ride lasted only a few seconds, the thrilling experience created lasting memories.

“You can’t beat the skyline view,” said travelingmom.com editor Cindy Richards, who journeyed from Indiana on the coldest weekend of the winter to give it a whirl. “If you think your kids might like to zip line, this is a great test.”

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Lauren Swedlow and Sommer Stone after enjoying the ride. Photo: Daniel Patton

Among the kids who agreed with her was Chicago student Sommer Stone, who said that she was initially nervous because “the platform got shaky” while the harness was reeled into place, but started enjoying the ride as soon as she took off.

Officially known as “The Freezin’ Gator Zip,” the event was created by Experience Kissimmee, the tourism council of Osceola County, Florida. It was designed to tempt Chicagoans into visiting the subtropical destination with a chilled-down version of a thrill that can be enjoyed there year-round.

According to Experience Kissimmee’s CEO, D.T. Minich, a gravity-powered pulley contraption of this sort has never been erected in a place like downtown Chicago before.
“We worked with the City of Chicago Parks & Rec,” he said. “They were great, but when we first started this idea I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can get them to buy in.’”

The company plans to take the show on the road next year, most likely to New York City, but was determined to hold the inaugural run in the Windy City. “This is such a special market for us,” explained Minich. “We love the people up here and it’s a great setting next to the ice rink and everything.”

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Cooter and friend from Gator World

The event also featured two live alligators from Gatorland, a theme park located within the headwaters of the Everglades that flow near Kissimmee. The carnivorous reptiles not only remained calm as guests held them for photos in the “warming tent” next to the landing area, but they also stirred up more excitement than the complimentary hot chocolate just a few feet away.

The spectacle was kept safe by two animal handlers from Gatorland named Cooter and Bubba, who had secured the animals’ jaws with electrical tape before the event began and wore coveralls the rest of the time. Additionally, explained Cooter, the predators are generally harmless unless they are provoked. “Alligators are like couch potatoes,” he said.
Over the nine years that he has worked for the family-owned, 110-acre theme park that houses 1,730 alligators, 51 crocodiles and hundreds of additional poisonous creatures, Cooter has only been bitten twice.

It happened during feeding time. “We hold chicken over the water,” he says. “Kinda like a person hanging from a zip line.”

— Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

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